Stephen Chow, Chi Chung Lam, Siu-Lung Leung, Qiu Yuen.
24th October, 2005.
2.40:1 (anamorphic widescreen).
5.1 Dolby Digital.
Cantonese, English, Spanish. Dutch, Greek, Spanish, Portugese and English subtitles.
When the rich woodcutters pushed in, Chow lost it big time.
Stephen Chow has been making and starring in films for a few years now, but has only recently reached the epicanthically-challenged eyes of us Western folk. Shaolin Soccer was a bit of a hit, in Hong Kong and abroad, but Kung Fu Hustle has done even better. Best described as 'multitalented', Chow directs, writes, produces and stars in a film that is equal parts comedy and martial arts.
In 1940s Guangzhou (Shanghai to those of us outside of China) the dreaded Axe Gang have grown to dominate most of the city. One such area that has so far evaded their monopoly is Pig Sty Alley. Sing (Chow) a luckless chancer, drops by to try and con the slum-dwelling folk into giving him money by pretending to be a member of the Axe Gang. Things get out of hand, and the gang gets involved. Unfortunately for them, a few kung fu masters just happen to live in Pig Sty Alley, and they don't like being pushed around.
Kung Fu Dentist had unconventional methods.
Visually, there's no pissing about. The villains wear black. The hero wears white. No prize for subtlety, but the cinematography is good. The '40s setting is okay but incidental to the film, not of any great consequence and not explored in any way, shape or form. Nice steady camera work, and good angles to view the action from. The use of slow motion, wirework and CGI is extensive and fucking good. I was surprised at the amount of CGI, actually. A lot more than you usually see in HK films. Blended with traditional wirework and stunts, it's a bit of a killer combo as it flows into slow motion and then surges back into full speed, allowing you to view some of the more intricate pieces of action and not miss anything. Skilful use of one technique can add a lot to a scene, but when you see all three used in conjunction, and more to the point, used well
(instead of the recent CGI-addiction some film-makers are displaying) it lifts things onto an entirely new level of arsekickery. A lot of the humour is visual, Chow isn't afraid to break into slapstick before, during and after perfectly serious scenes and while it's not highbrow satire, you'll laugh several times if you haven't disappeared completely up your own arse.
"Quickly, while he sleeps, tattoo a cock on his forehead too!"
The music is another plus. A gorgeous score which never loses it's Oriental roots, yet manages to be just as rousing or saddening to my huge and no doubt dulled Western ears. This particular gwailo is humbled by such brilliance, and will burn many an offering on the altar of his ancestors in thanks. The music was done by a bloke called Raymond Wong, and full marks to you, sir. Such skill is dashed rare. Raymond (may I call you Raymond?) has put together music which matches the visuals, and some of the orchestral pieces slow and speed up along with the action, keeping pace flawlessly. Every charge a crescendo, every lull an idyll, every flurry a staccato rhythm. Masterful.
The sound effects are pretty damn good, too. They have some beauties in there that have real weight behind them. Face-breaking kicks, chest-denting punches, whirling blades and some nice wall-shattering impacts, they're all here and they all sound bloody meaty.
A bad point is, as usual with films from Foreign Parts, the dubbing. I doubt there's any realistic way to find voice actors as good as the cast of a film, so as a result you end up with poorly-delivered lines and an unintentional comedy element which isn't so bad in a film like this but can ruin a more serious work. Thankfully, the subtitles are pretty good and let you watch the film without giggling like a giddy schoolgirl at every line.
Bracelets were back in a big way.
The fights are the sort of stuff that makes you take up kung fu. Mind you, after playing Streetfighter 2 I started taking yoga lessons, but quit as soon as I found out they wouldn't teach me how to breathe fire. Bastards.
The first fight in the film is a relatively subdued affair. Only fifty or so people get their heads kicked in, and the energetic, kinetic feel of that and the subsequent fights have Yuen Wo Ping's name all over them. He's been doing action choreography for more than thirty years now (his career didn't start with The Matrix, thank you very much) and it shows. The smooth seamless flow of the action is testament to the man's experience, vision and genius. Yuen (may I call you Yuen?) is an example to us all. We're given several different styles and each is showcased, often side by side, with clarity and grace. You get to see the shitkicking from a variety of ranges and angles, but it's always crystal clear and it's always cooler than a polar bear's toenails. There's a beautifully inventive fight featuring music as a weapon (and not in a shit 'Air Guitar Duel' way, either) which really does kick some major fucking arse (and decapitates some major head, too).
The kung fu skills are unashamedly superhuman, and very enjoyable to watch. They add impetus and majesty to fights that realistic combat cannot. The added mobility and fluidity, combined with bullet-stopping speed and wall-breaking strength is something that will never stop being a spectacle. One thing to note is the certificate the film received. Applause to the BBFC for passing it uncut, but for some reason it's a 15. This film is a 12. There's very little blood, no gore, hardly any trace of sexuality or nudity and though there is some swearing (a fuck and a few shits, like a porn film I once borrowed, to my horror) it's not a 15. If you need to be told it's unrealistic you should already be locked up in a laughing academy, safely caged in a rubber-walled room. As a result, you won't be seeing this film or reading this review.
You fucking nutter.
"That man has a ham sandwich!"
This is a martial arts comedy, and as a result the characters are not what you would call three-dimensional. The baddies are bad. The goodies are good. There's no grey area, just simple black and white, and each character clearly falls into one of the two. The acting is surprisingly good, usually it's somewhere between dire and laughable in martial arts films, but this is played for laughs and it softens the lack of quality. The dialogue in both sub and dub isn't terribly good, but I found lines like "She is totally crazy. Completely off her rocking chair." and "Stay here or I will break you in half!" to be trouser-pissingly funny. I am easily amused, true, but the sheer shitness had me in stitches no end of times. There's a chase scene reminiscent of Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner at the height of their powers, people falling off things, getting twatted over the head in true comedy fashion and some sly tributes you may miss if you're not paying attention. The Godfather, Spiderman, Casablanca, The Shining and Gone With The Wind are referenced, along with a nod to Hemingway (or even Donne?), which gave me a small superior smirk.
Chinese or not, posh people take no shit.
It's not a groundbreaking film. That doesn't mean it's bad, though. Humour and action are mostly kept separate, which works well. It stops the fights from being farcical and the laughs from being too violent. The humour isn't sophisticated, but it is
funny. I suppose if you want to be po-faced that's up to you, but you're depriving yourself of enjoyment and laughter, and that's your problem. This film is amusing, and only gets funnier if you're high, drunk, with friends or all three. The fights are suitably awe-inspiring, especially the finale, which will show you just how coffin-nail-hard a kung fu genius really is. This film serves as a nice entree into the martial arts genre for the uninitiated, or as a joyous celebration of all that is great in said genre for veterans.
The DVD isn't too bad, though some might think it a little steep. One disc, with the feature and plenty of sub/dub options isn't too shabby in my book. The commentary from Chow and Co. is pretty good, quite funny sometimes despite it being in subtitles, got some nice info about the film, though nothing too deep, this is martial arts not a character study. The deleted scenes are the usual throwaway stuff that was deleted with good reason. The Behind the Scenes featurette is par for the course, short and sweet. The interview with Stephen Chow...is quite bad, thanks to the interviewer, some moron who should be hauled out onto the street and given a damn good kicking. Poster Gallery is nothing special. TV Spots, likewise. Trailers for a few other films, for some odd reason. Added to that, with the Special Edition you get a keyring, which is metal and quite swish, usually they're cheap plastic, a wristband, a pack of cards (handy, as playing poker would be tricky without one and I've lost most of mine) and an inflatable axe. Hours of fun. Worth it for that alone, I feel.
There's nothing as devastating as a big chopper.